Don’t let the title fool you; “The Exploding Boy” (2023) does not deal with any kind of explosions, or at least not literal ones. If we talk about metaphorical ones, then yes, the title is pretty apt and self-explanatory. The film is about Alex Silver (Parris Bates), an angsty teenager who dreams of becoming the next Jim Henson. However, like most teenagers, life is not in his favor. He is bullied in his class, he does not have friends, his father is a prick, and his neighbors bother him for no real reason. All these together are certainly enough to make him explode, but fortunately, he doesn’t, and why or how he stops himself from exploding forms the crux of the story. 

As a coming-of-age tale of an angsty teenager who is sure of his purpose but does not know how to achieve it, “The Exploding Boy” does not make a complete mess out of it. However, for a boy who dreams of becoming the next Jim Henson, the film really does not focus much on his aspirations and the source of his inspiration. Though the narration somehow makes it clear that the puppets are his way of expressing himself and his feelings, his fascination with the puppets has not been explored well. Some glimpses into how he found the puppets to be his medium of expression would have added some depth and layer to the film, which it severely lacks. 

Alex’s boring and bleak life starts to change when Julius (Daniel Q. Taylor) enrolls in his class. Though initially reluctant, Alex gradually forms a friendship with Julius, which later turns into something more intimate. The journey of these two teenagers and Alex’s gradual acceptance and understanding of himself have been shown in a very pleasing and aesthetic way. Parris Bates has portrayed the confusion of a teenager who does not really understand what’s going on with him or what it is that he wants.

However, despite some fine elements, the story seems incoherent at times. Most of the characters could have been developed in a more detailed way. Alex has a prick of a father, but has he always been like that, or was there something that turned him into this? Such questions might not always be important to answer, but giving some kind of explanation certainly helps the story. 

A still from The Exploding Boy (2023).
A still from The Exploding Boy (2023).

We do learn that Alex’s mother had an affair, But that cannot be the only reason for his father to become this person since their relationship was already bad when she had an affair. Alex’s mother’s character is better developed than her father’s. She’s a housewife stuck in a bad marriage. She tries to make herself better by joining a gym class, but things turn south there as well. However, her arc is better than her husband’s.

The actors here have done a pretty good job and carry the film well. Bates seems to have internalized Alex’s character as it appears that we see Alex only and not some person playing the role. The same goes for Taylor, who seamlessly fits into Alex’s world. As the hateful father, Stephens nails his role, and the audience is bound to grow a certain kind of hatred for him. Adrienne Sparks plays the role of a doting mother with ease while also depicting the issues she’s having within her marriage and her life.

Despite being not very taut, “The Exploding Boy” does have elements of sweetness that make it work partly. The music and cinematography save the script a lot. Some shots are really beautiful to look at, like the one where Alex and Julius are on a swing, and they are laughing, and their heads are spinning with the swing, and it’s evident that they are gradually feeling things for each other. The symbolism of the puppets is also another plus point of the narrative. The mention of a shell to save oneself from the world is quite metaphorical, as Alex only refers to himself. However, like in his puppet story, he also realizes that the shell is not going to save him and that he needs real human connections to survive in this world.

Co-director Ian Southworth and screenwriter Monty Wolfe have done a fairly decent job. This might be enjoyable if you want to watch something sweet and unhurried with some palpable coming-of-age elements. However, it is better to keep the expectations low and just take the story as it comes. You might be surprised at the warm feeling you are left with once the film ends.

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The Exploding Boy (2023) Movie Links: IMDb
The Exploding Boy (2023) Movie Cast: Parris Bates, Kae Burris, Abel Cosentino

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